The Redeemer is Harry Hole’s fourth English-language adventure, coming as it does after the dramatic finale of The Devil’s Star. This was an excellent and exciting read, and is the usual and typical Jo Nesbo in Harry Hole mode, fare. The eponymous Redeemer is a relentless Balkans assassin, who kills the wrong man one Christmas in Oslo, the repercussions of which drag Harry Hole into a race against time and death.
Outliers is essentially Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis on what it takes to be a mega-successful person in today’s world, and how genius alone is not even close to being enough to guarantee “success” of any kind. Through detailed analysis of many famous contemporary success stories, he builds on his fascinating thesis to reveal to us the true ingredients or requirements for success, and how the extremely successful are outliers in terms of their prevalence in society. It is a book that, as another reviewer wrote, will inevitably make you think over your own life story, and gives you a new way of analysing such.
Hide & Seek is BBC journalist Stephen Walker’s re-telling of the cat-and-mouse antics and escapades of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and the SS and Gestapo head Herbert Kappler, during 1940s wartime Rome. It apparently is a little-known story, and this is Stephen Walker’s effort to right that by giving this story its deserved place in the annals of World War II history.
Monsignor O’Flaherty was an Irish priest assigned to the Vatican, who set up and operated an escape route for Allied POWs and opponents of the Germans, using Vatican City as his base of operations. I have no trouble at all believing that the Monsignor was an incredible character, and his efforts undoubtedly saved many thousands of people, and therefore this story is indeed a story worth telling. The problem with this book unfortunately, is how the story is told.
Virtually You – The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality, by Elias Aboujaoude MD, is a timely and much-needed look at how the omnipresent Internet is effecting the personality, behavior, and indeed the life, of the multitudes who interact with it. Elias is a psychiatrist and specialist in Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, and Impulse Control Disorders, and makes an excellent case in this book for a new psychiatric condition, namely, Internet Addiction.
To be clear though, this book is not a thesis on this proposed condition, it is so much more than that – it is built on insightful and very original thinking, and quite shockingly exposes the effects that the Internet is having on people from all walks of life. This book is a real metaphorical eye-opener, but despite this, it is not alarmist at all, and the author comes across as very reasonable throughout. The author is not some old foggy trying to flog his fire-and-brimstone prophecies of a wicked “interweb” technology on us, but rather a very Internet-savvy guy, with a truly impressive grasp and understanding of the essence and nature of the Web, and this coupled with his obvious knowledge of psychiatry and the human mind, makes it impossible to dismiss him.
The Musicians of Auschwitz is Fania Fenelon’s autobiographical account of her life and experience in the Birkenau concentration camp, which was the female “camp” in Auschwitz, and later of her time in the Bergen Belsen camp. This book was written thirty years after she gained her freedom, on the 15th April, 1945. The account is quite extraordinary, as it is really a dual autobiography – that of “die kleine Sängerin” Fania, and also the “autobiography”, if you will, of the life and existence of the orchestra of camp inmates she played and sang in.
This book also gives a terrifying insider’s view of the humanity and inhumanity, and of life and death, inside these concentration camps. The book is extremely well written in its own right, and Fania was assisted in the writing of it by Marcelle Routier. Hers is a nightmare tale of deprivation, starvation, cruelty and insanity but also of hope.
Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, by internet sensation Mil Millington, is “a comic novel that was ‘inspired'” by the theme of the website of the same name. As this is a book review site, I won’t go into the whole internet aspect of this, but it is worth keeping in mind that the website which served as the genesis for this novel, has received over 5 million visits. So similarly to the Sh*t My Dad Says website, internet blog popularity seems to have spawned this book.
The main character is the curiously named Pel, who narrates this chaotic and absurd story. The plot is loose and fluid, and perhaps uniquely for a novel, the plot isn’t really important here, serving as it does essentially as a vehicle for the author to serve us up lashings of argumentative dialogue between the English Pel, and his German girlfriend Ursula. This is the sort of dialogue over 5 million internet visitors love, and presumably so as not to disappoint or disenfranchise them, we get a long list of things the two main protagonists argue about.
The stated aim of The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins, is to prove that evolution is not a theory, that it is a fact. Confusingly though, having stated the aim of the book is to prove the “theory” of evolution, Dawkins in typically combative style says that “it is no longer possible to dispute the fact of evolution” – makes you wonder what the point of this book is at all then, doesn’t it? Also, is it not utterly unscientific to assume a theory (I am aware he calls it a fact and answer this below) is infallible? Worrying signs then, right at the start of this work, which purports to be a scientific proof of evolution.
I came to this book open-minded, genuinely anticipating the “proof” of evolution, as I had never quite fully believed all of it. For example, I wondered what the answer would be to evolution violating the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (the law of increased entropy), the attack on evolution on the micro-biological scale, the errors in Darwin’s initial timescales which were an essential element of the “theory”, and of course the fact that no transitional fossils had ever being discovered, nor any species observed throughout the history of humanity to “evolve” into another. I would leave the book extremely surprised and disappointed, that the “arch-darwinist”, as he calls himself, did not actually address any of these, to any sort of degree. As we will see, he has plenty of glib arguments, zealously and nastily attacks “creationists” and “history-deniers”, debates the meaning of the words “theory” and “fact”, questions whether species actually are distinct, but does not truly scientifically address any of the above. If that sounds like your cup of tea, so to speak, bully for you!
Jerusalem – The Biography, from the pen of Simon Sebag Montefiore, is a fittingly epic work chronicling the history of the city of Jerusalem. As you would expect from the author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, which was the most impressively researched biography I have ever come across, pieced together as it was solely from the actual correspondence of Stalin and his cohorts, this “biography” of Jerusalem is an incredibly well researched and authoritative account of this mystical city from approximately 1000 B.C through to present times.
It is a brave undertaking, as the sweep of history covered in this book is truly immense. Helpfully though, the author has employed a novel approach here, in that he treats Jerusalem as a biographical subject, and that Jerusalem acts effectively as a witness to the historical events that occur throughout this broad expanse of history. This keeps the historical focus squarely on events impacting Jerusalem, and acts as a sort of historical filter. This device works very well for the most part, and despite there being a few flaws with it, the reader is richly rewarded with not just a detailed, thorough, exciting and vibrant history of this city, but also having read it will likely emerge with an illuminated and refreshed view of world history in general.